Davis' Rose Bowl Game Plan: How Wide Open?

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Texas Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis is putting the final touches on the single most important game plan of his career. How far will Davis delve into his playbook to attack top-ranked USC? And how wide-open must a record-setting Texas offense be in the Rose Bowl National Championship Game on January 4?

This is a Longhorn offense that has generated an NCAA-leading 50.9 ppg and a school record 508.4 ypg. Week-in and week-out during the 2005 season, following blowout after blowout, Davis admitted he kept things basic.

"We have some things that we haven't used yet and some things that we haven't used a great deal," Davis said Saturday. "We'll do whatever we can to move the ball. One thing you really have to be careful about when you have a month off is the tendency, as coaches, to be mad scientists. They go in their labs and they turn the lights off, they don't shave for two or three days, and they come out and feel like they've got the answers for the world. When you have a month, if you're not careful, you'll do too much. You'll try to add too many things."

There are those who believe we ain't seen nothin' yet from Davis' offense. But USC coach Pete Carroll is convinced he has seen it all.

"In the early parts of those games they weren't holding back," Carroll said. "We've seen them in every game this year, and games from last year as well. I know they didn't always know they were going to be ahead. I would think that we've seen most of what they have. You can't afford to hold things back just because you think you're going to win easy."

Historically, the rub on Davis is that, the bigger the game, the more he 'holds things back.' That won't be the case on Wednesday, SE Limas Sweed said.

"For this game, the playbook is going to be wide open," Sweed told Inside Texas. "For the national championship, you want to do everything possible to win the game. I definitely like the game plan. It's going to be a great game plan."

QB Vince Young's assessment of Texas' strategy is not unlike Carroll's take on the situation.

"We're doing what we've been doing all season, we're not doing anything different," Young told Inside Texas. "I like that Coach Davis keeps it wide open. You never know what he's going to call. That's why, as a quarterback, you better make sure you know the offense because you never know what he's going to call."

While Young relishes the unpredictability, logic would almost dictate that Davis' game plan would at least focus in a couple of key areas.

First, rely early on the zone read and force the issue until USC (just like at Ohio State) adjusts and/or proves it can stop it. The Trojans lost a pair of All-American DTs to the NFL (Mike Patterson, Shaun Cody) but DEs Lawrence Jackson and Frostee Rucker are All-PAC-10 first-teamers. Overall, the run defense has slipped a little from its No. 1 perch (79.4 ypg) in 2004 to No. 24 (117.3 ypc) in 2005. Keying on VY and his tailback-by-committee brings the safeties closer to the LOS and sets up the deep ball to the likes of Limas Sweed, Billy Pittman and Quan Cosby.

"Somebody asked me the other day about their being 75th in the nation in passing defense (No. 77 actually)," Davis said, "but they're ahead so much that opponents are out of their game plan, taking shots because of the score in the ballgame. And when you play a 12-game season, there's going to be some ups and downs. A couple of times they didn't play to their standard that they're accustomed to."

Second, exploit USC's youthful outside linebackers. The Trojan secondary is typically cast as the team's weak link, despite the presence of All-American SS Darnell Bing working as the enforcer. But the Burnt Orange crystal ball says Davis is salivating at the prospect of getting senior TE David Thomas (can anyone remember the last time this kid made a mistake?) matched up against freshman SLB Brian Cushing. You've also got a sophomore at WILL in Keith Rivers. Both 'backers are big and fast but are still learning the nuances of the position. They've made a living by using fantastic closing speed to compensate for being out of position, but they have not faced a team on game day with the kind of speed that Texas puts on the turf.

Junior MLB Oscar Lua is an Honorable Mention All-PAC-10 selection and leads the team with 60 tackles. But there's only one of him, and SC's linebackers have been hit with the injury bug this season. SLB Dallas Sartz was the only returning starting linebacker from 2004 but was lost for the season with a dislocated shoulder.

"They've played a lot of young guys at linebacker," Davis noted. "Brian Cushing is a true freshman. You wouldn't think a true freshman would play on a team that's No. 1 in the country. We don't play many true freshmen. But it tells you a little bit about Cushing's athletic ability as well as the injuries that they've had."

SC coaches have tried to shore up the linebacking corps by involving Bing with the outside linebackers and bringing him off the edge. The Trojans blitz about 30 percent of time, but there are a couple of atypical features of their blitz package.

"They involve secondary players more than some of the teams in the Big 12," Davis said. "They use the free safety blitz and have the ability to zone behind that or to play man behind it. They use the blitz judiciously, at the right times."

The game plan was in place before Texas arrived. Now, Davis said, it's simply a matter of tweaking.

Texas practiced Saturday morning at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. The team will practice at 9:15 a.m. (PST) on New Years Day.

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